The Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO announced yesterday that it will begin monitoring the political content of religious programming on Channel 20, WDCA, and Channel 5, WTTG.
Specifically, the purpose of the watchdog project will be to determine whether evangelists the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson make one-sided statements regarding political and economic issues in the guise of religious programming.
Monitoring is to begin shortly after Labor Day, will last until Nov. 2 and will be conducted by the AFL-CIO, the D.C. Labor Communications Association, the International Labor Press Association, and People for the American Way PAW , an group of church and lay leaders organized in 1980 by producer Norman Lear to contend with the "far right."
"We are discovering a new language is being written by radical religious right," Joslyn N. Williams, president of the metropolitan AFL-CIO, said at a press conference, "a language in which familiar, safe words like motherhood, family, country, God, take on a different meaning: one with political connotations. This is not a new technique, and I anticipate that one result of our monitoring project will be to crack this code."
The project is an attempt to ensure that broadcasters who carry the religious programs air all sides of any controversial issues mentioned on the evangelical shows, particularly any political commentary having to do with upcoming elections.
"The Moral Majority has made it clear it plans to play a significant role in the '82 elections," Williams said. "There is no doubt that the Moral Majority has said that it is seeking to influence the election of certain candidates it feels as being particular to that ideology." The Rev. Jerry Falwell is leader of the Moral Majority.
Alan Ginsberg, station manager at WTTG, said "I have no response," when asked about the project. "The issue is not with the station, it's with the programming. We sell the time and the people buy the time." Ginsberg said he will wait until the AFL-CIO comes up with a specific demand for air time and then will consider what action the station will take.
The project was prompted when PAW sent a letter in May to John Rose, Channel 20 station manager, requesting air time to respond to statements made on one religious program, "The 700 Club."
Farrell Meisel, Channel 20 program manager, then offered PAW time on "Newsprobe," a public affairs program.
Last week the AFL-CIO sent letters to Channel 5 and Channel 20 warning of the monitoring project and preparing the stations for demands for air time to counter any commentary on economic or political issues.
Both PAW and the AFL-CIO emphasized they are not trying to get any program taken off television but are seeking time to air opposing views. "We will defend Jerry Falwell's and Pat Robertson's right to be on the air," Williams said. "We do not want the stations to try and censor the American public . . .
"Decision-makers and opinion leaders are influenced by what they hear on radio here in Washington , and by what they see on television here," Williams added. "Broadcasters must be aware that scratching just a little below the surface will reveal the true meaning of the message the radical religious right is delivering."